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WBUR named Boston News Station of the Year by Associated Press

All-time high of seven awards

Only a Game, the WBUR weekly sports magazine hosted by commentator Bill Littlefield, was named the Boston market’s top Sports Program by the Associated Press. Photo by Vernon Doucette

This story was published in the BU Bridge on March 18, 2005.

A trophy on the reception desk of WBUR-FM will soon have company: the BU-owned radio station was recently named Boston’s News Station of the Year by the Associated Press for the second consecutive year.

WBUR, a National Public Radio (NPR) station, won a whopping seven Boston market awards from the AP, setting an all-time high for the station and topping last year’s total of six. The station’s Only a Game received top honors for the third year in a row in the Sports Program category. WBUR also earned awards in Continuing Coverage, for reporting on gay marriage in Massachusetts, Enterprise Reporting, Special Events, and top Talk Show, for On Point, while the news program Here and Now shared best Newscast award with WRKO.

“This is a testament to an outstanding team that is dedicated to the business of gathering news and presenting it to the listeners without bias,” says Peter Fiedler, the station’s interim general manager.

The coverage of the gay marriage debate included stories from Audie Cornish, Rachel Gotbaum, and Athena Desai, who reported from Boston, Provincetown, and Cambridge, respectively, on May 17, 2004, the day city and town officials opened their doors to same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses. Subsequent stories were aired by Fred Thys, Gina Cervetti, Bob Oakes, and Monica Brady Myerov. “Virtually all of WBUR’s reporters have made contributions to the coverage of that issue,” says Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programs. “The Connection devoted a show to gay marriage. So did On Point. And Here and Now produced segments on it. This really underscores the cross-pollination of talent that takes place here.”

Several of the WBUR stories on gay marriage were aired nationally on the NPR shows Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Fiedler says the Special Events award, for the station’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention, was also the result of collaboration. “It involved teamwork — and that includes the listeners who called in to shows such as The Connection and On Point,” he says.

The Enterprise Reporting award went to Sean Cole, producer of WBUR’s Inside Out documentary unit, for “With This Ring: Pledging Abstinence,” a series about a traveling evangelical road show promoting sexual abstinence for teenagers. “It’s a remarkable piece of work,” says Fleming. “We still get a lot of feedback from listeners, who continue to listen to it on our Web site.”

“I am most pleased by the recognition achieved by On Point,” says Joseph Mercurio, BU’s executive vice president. “Tom Ashbrook, the host, is emerging as one of the most intelligent and talented hosts on public radio. The more exposure his program receives, the more popular it becomes.”

Ashbrook’s stint at WBUR began on September 17, 2001, as the host of Special Coverage, a live five-hour talk show covering the nation’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The show was reborn the following February as On Point, a two-hour hybrid talk show and newsmagazine often cohosted by Jack Beatty, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly. Fleming says that Ashbrook “is blessed with a great voice and a great presence.”

Here and Now host Robin Young and her team “provide another example of what makes WBUR successful,” says Fiedler. “They bring a special brand of journalism to their show,” a newsmagazine aired on weekdays at noon.

Only a Game, the weekly sports magazine hosted by commentator Bill Littlefield, is broadcast on more than 120 NPR stations. Littlefield says that there are two comments he loves to hear about his show: “When a listener says, ‘I’m not a big sports fan, but I still listen to Only a Game,’ it means that we are telling our stories well. I also like to hear people say, ‘You sound like you’re having a good time doing the show,’ because we are having a good time.”

The AP awards add to a lengthy list of recognitions received by WBUR since it went on the air in 1950 — more than 160 awards for excellence in journalism and quality of programming, including three Peabody Awards, the premier radio and television quality and achievement awards. “We have an outstanding group of people in the reporting areas and the producing areas,” says Fleming. “They’re all seasoned professionals and it shows.”

Fiedler says the awards are especially gratifying after a challenging year that saw the resignation of former general manager Jane Christo amid allegations of mismanagement. “This station is still clearly focused on our core mission: bringing quality news and information to our listeners,” he says. “We are making sure that WBUR remains a leader in the radio industry.”

“I think the awards verify what many of us have known for a long time — that we have an excellent news operation at WBUR that provides meaningful information to our audience every day,” says Mercurio. “The news department is imaginative, creative, and hardworking. With regard to our original programming, our producers continue to drive the station toward excellence. They are great talents in their own right. These awards are a tribute to the programming staff at WBUR and they are well-deserved.”

Will the WBUR reception desk be crowded with a third straight trophy next year? Is a News Station of the Year hat trick in the station’s future?

“Stay tuned,” says Fiedler.